Read Voices In The Evening Online

Authors: Natalia Ginzburg

Voices In The Evening

To Gabriele

Copyright © 1961, 201I by Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a.

English translation copyright © 1963, 201I by The Hogarth Press, Ltd., London and E. P.

Dutton & Co. Inc., New York

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Arcade Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

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Originally published in Italian under the title
Le Voci Delia Sera


The places and characters in this story are imaginary. The first are not found on any map, the others are not alive, nor have ever lived, in any part of the world. I am sorry to say this having loved them as though they were real.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

ISBN: 978-1-61145-629-5


Also by Natalia Ginzburg

All Our Yesterdays

Family Sayings

The Little Virtues

The City and the House

The Manzoni Family

Valentino and Sagittarius

Family: Family and Borghesia,
Two Nopellas


I Elsa and her Mother and Family

II Old Balotta

III Elsa and her Family

IV Balotta's Children

V Vincenzino and Catè

VI Elsa and Tommasino

VII The End of the Affair


It is an ancient and wide-spread custom in Italy to give people nicknames by which they are known not only to their intimates, but to the world at large. This is so much so that sometimes few people know a man's real name Thus in the present work one of the chief characters De Francisa is universally known as Balotta, that is little Ball, and another one as Purillo from the peculiar op invariably worn by him. This man's surname is only casually revealed towards the end of the book The real name of a man known as Nebbia, that is Mist, is never mentioned The meaning of some of these nicknames has been inserted in the translation at their first occurrence

It is also well known that in Italian, as in several other languages, people on intimate terms address one another in the second person singular. This usage would be out of place in modern English dialogue. Accordingly the plural pronoun and verb have been substituted in this translation without comment In some places however the use of the second person singular is referred to explicitly in the course of the story. In such places a phrase about the familiar form of address has been inserted in the English text, or one speaker has been made to address another as ‘my dear'. The reader will understand that in such places the speaker was using the second person singular.


Elsa and her Mother and Family

gone with my mother to the doctors and we were returning home, by the path which skirts General Sartorio's wood and the high wall, covered with moss, of the Villa Bottiglia.

It was October, and beginning to be cold: in the village, over our shoulders, the first street lamps had been Ht and the blue globe of the Hotel Concordia illuminated the deserted piazza with its glaucous light.

My mother said, I feel a Mnd of lump in my throat. It hurts if I swallow.'

She said, ‘Good evening, General.'

General Sartorio had passed us, raising his hat above his silvery waved hair, a monocle in his eye, and his dog on a lead.

My mother said, ‘What a fine head of hair he has, at that age!'

She said, ‘Did you notice how ugly the dog has become?

I have a kind of vinegary taste in my mouth now, and that lump hurts me all the time.

‘However did he discover that I have high blood pressure? It has always been low with me, always.'

She said, “Good evening, Gigi.'

General Sartorio's son had passed us with his white montgomery over his shoulders. He was supporting on one arm a salad bowl covered with a napkin. The other arm was in plaster of Paris and in a sling.

'He had a really horrid fall. I wonder if he will ever recover the full use of his arm?' said my mother.

She said, 'I wonder what he had got in that bowl.

'One can see that there is a party somewhere,' she added, 'At theTerenzis' very likely. Everyonewho goes has to take something Nowadays many people do that.'

She said, 'But they don' t invite you, do they?

'They don't invite you,' she said, 'because they think that you give yourself airs. You have never been to the tennis club either. If one does not go about and show oneself, people say that such a person is giving himself airs, and they don't seek one out any more. Now, the little Bottiglia girls, on the other hand, everyone invites them. The other evening they danced at the Terenzis' until three in the morning. There were some foreigners there, a Chinese man even.'

The little Bottiglia girls were always so called in our family, although the youngest girl is now twenty-nine.

She said, 'Perhaps I have a little hardening of the arteries, have I, do you think?'

She said, ‘Shall we have any faith in the new doctor? The old one was old, of course. He was not interested any more. If one told him of anything wrong, he immediately said he had the same trouble himself. This one writes everything down. Did yon notice how he writes everything? Did you see how ugly his wife was?'

She said, ‘Couldn't we sometimes have the miracle of a word from you?'

‘What wife?' I said.

‘The doctor's wife.'

‘The one that came to the door,' said I, ‘was not his wife. She was the nurse. The tailor at Castelo's daughter.'

‘The tailor at Castello's daughter! I How ugly she is!

‘And how was it she had no overall? She will be his servant, not the nurse, you see.'

‘She had no overall,' said I, ‘because she had taken it off as she was just going. The doctor has neither a maid nor a wife. He is a bachelor and has his meals at the Concordia.'

‘A bachelor is he?'

My mother in her own thoughts immediately married me off with the doctor.

‘I wonder if he finds himself better off here than at Cignano. Better at Cignano, probably. More people more life. We shall have to ask him to dinner sometime. With Gigi Sartorio.'

'His fiancée,' said I, 'is at Cignano. They are getting married in the spring.'


'The doctor.'

'So young, and already engaged!'

We were walking up our garden path, which was carpeted with leaves. The kitchen window was lit up and our maid Antonia could be seen beating some eggs.

My mother said, ‘That lump in my throat is quite dry now; it moves neither up nor down.'

She sat down with a sigh in the hall and was knocking her galoshes together to shake off the mud. My father came to the door of his study with his pipe and the jacket of Pyrenaean wool he wears in the house.

‘I have got high blood pressure,' said my mother with a trace of pride.

‘High?' said Aunt Ottavia, at the head of the stairs arranging the two black tresses on her head. They were woolly like a doll's.

‘High. Not low. High.'

One of Aunt Ottavias cheeks was red the other pale, as always happened when she fell asleep in her armchair by the stove over a book from the ‘Selecta' library.

‘They sent up from the Villa Bottiglia,' said Antonia from the kitchen doorway, Tor some flour They had only a little and had to make some
beignets. I
gave them a good bowlful.'

‘Again? Why, they are always out of flour. They could do without making
. They are heavy at night.'

‘They are not at all heavy,' said Aunt Ottavia.

‘They are heavy.'

My mother took off her hat, her coat and the cat-skin lining which she always wears underneath, then the shawl which she fastens over her breast with a safety pin.

‘But perhaps,' she said, ‘they have made the
for the party, which must be at the Terenzis'. We saw Gigi Sartorio, too, with a salad bowl. Who came to ask for the flour? Carola? Didn't she tell you anything about a party?'

‘Me, they didn't tell me anything,' said Antonia.

I went up to my room. It is on the top floor, and looks across country. Of an evening one can make out the heights of Castello in the distance, and the scattered ones of Castel Piccolo, high upon the shoulder of the hill, and beyond the hill is the town.

My room has a bed in a recess with muslin curtains, a small low easy chair in mouse-grey velvet, a chest of drawers with a looking glass and a cherry-wood desk. There is as well a maiolica stove, marron in colour, some logs in a basket, and a revolving bookcase with a plaster wolf on top, made by our man's son who is in an asylum. Hanging on the wall is a reproduction of the
Madonna of the Chair,
 a view of St Mark's, and a sachet for stockings, quite a big one, of point lace with blue love-knots, a present from Signora Bottigla.

I am twenty-seven.

I have a sister a little older than myself. She is married and lives at Johannesburg, and my mother reads the paper continually to see if they say anything about South Africa. She is always anxious about what is happening down there. In the night she wakes up and says to my father,

‘But down there where Teresita is, the Mau Mau will never get there, will they?'

Then I have a brother, rather younger than I am, who works in Venezuela. In the cupboard of the store-room of our house there are still his fencing masks and underwater things and boxing gloves, for as a boy he went in for sport; when the cupboard is flung open the boxing gloves topple down on one's head.

My mother is always lamenting that her children are so far away. She often goes off to have a cry over it with her friend Signora Ninetta Bottiglia.

All the same she gets some satisfaction out of shedding these tears. They feed her self-esteem since there is mingled with them some pride in having sent her offspring to such remote and perilous places. But my mother's most persistent worry is that I do not get married. This is an annoyance which depresses her, and the only consolation she gets lies in the fact that the little Bottiglia girls at the age of thirty have not got married either.

For a long time my mother cherished the dream that I should marry General Sartorio's son—a dream which vanished when she was told that the General's son was a morphine addict and not interested in women.

Still she takes the idea up again occasionally. She wakes up in the night and says to my father,

‘We shall have to invite General Sartorio's son to dinner.'

Then she says, ‘But do you believe that he is a pervert, that boy?'

My father says, ‘How should I know?'

‘They say it of so many and they will be saying it assuredly of our Giampiero.'

‘Very likely,' says my father.

“Very likely? How, very likely? Do you actually know that someone has said it?'

‘How should I know?'

‘Who could have said it, such a thing, of my Giampiero?'

We have lived in the neighbourhood for many years. My father is the accountant of the factory. The lawyer Bottiglia is the manager. The whole neighbourhood lives by the factory.

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